The Sonny Mazza
1930 Ford Model A Hemi Hot Rod Roadster
Today, the growth of hot rodding in the early 1950s is largely perceived to have been a west-coast phenomenon. But the truth is, by the time Dwight D. Eisenhower became president of the U.S. in 1953, there were hot rods everywhere. New England, in particular, had a large hot rod culture by the mid-50s, well served by publications filled with stories about the top cars, builders, drag strips, shows and clubs in the region.
The hot rod roadster offered here is one of the finest cars of its type to come out of the northeastern U.S. in the early 1950s. It is a survivor that exemplifies, in its pure lines and clean detailing, the best of hot rod design from that era. Its builder was Joe Sonny Mazza, who started building it in the summer of 1953. Mazza, who lived in Lynn, Massachusetts, would become a well-known personage in drag racing in the Northeast ... but more on that later; for now lets focus on young Sonnys hot rod Ford.
The story of how Sonny Mazza assembled his Model A Roadster has been told in detail in at least one recent rodders magazine. The article relates a textbook example of how a good hot rod came together in the early years of the sport. Typically, the Mazza roadster was mostly assembled from whatever stuff happened to be readily obtainable locally. First came the body. In June 1953, 5 for the car, took Sonny found a rust-free 30 Model A Roadster on a used car lot right in Lynn. He paid $3 it home and dismantled it, discarding everything except the body. A 32 Ford frame was already the standard platform for a hot rod in 1953 and Sonny, who was a member of Lynns Hi-Winders hot rod club, soon found one, priced at $25, to provide the foundation for his rod.
To give his roadster a low, racy profile, Sonny channeled the Model A body, dropping it down over the 32 frame rails. He found a 32 Ford radiator shell and chopped it four inches to match the newly lowered cowl. The firewall was smoothed and, like the rest of the car, cleanly detailed. At the rear, a pair of 48 Ford taillights with blue-dot lenses flanked the dual exhaust ports neatly cut into the rear body lower panel. The body and frame were finished in a pastel blue that was an off-the-shelf Ford fleet color.
Sonny wanted to build a fast drag car as well as a sleek custom roadster. He knew he would need a big, modern V8 to compete on the strip...and he found just what he was looking for, again right in Lynn, at a salvage yard. It was a nearly new 1952 Chrysler Firepower 331-cid V8, one of the original hemi engines. Now, this was a pretty remarkable findthe Chrysler V8 and its hemispherical combustion chambers had just been introduced in 1951 it was still a pretty scarce item in 1953. Not only was it one of the hottest engines around, the hemi also looked great in a rodits muscular valve covers (chromed, of course) leaving no doubt as to its heritage.
A Howard camshaft and Imperial pistons were installed into the big Chrysler engine. Sonny then topped it off with an aluminum intake onto which four Stromberg 97 carburetors were mounted. A custom radiator consisting of a BX racing core, sandwiched between stock 32 Ford upper and lower tanks, was built at a cost of $125. Smithy mufflers helped quiet the big hemi for street driving.
The juice brakes, rear axle and a 3-speed transmission came from a 48 Ford also found in a local salvage yard. A dropped front axle was de rigueur on a hot rod Ford, so Sonny sent $25 off to distant California for a chromed Bell axle with a 4 drop...nice! Wheels were Ford disks. The hair pins (radius rods) and headlight bar were fabricated by hand and then chrome plated.
The interior was trimmed in white naughahyde (synthetic leather) and a set of Stewart-Warner gauges were spread across the dash, which also soon sported a then nearly new 1952 Ford radio. A 40 Ford steering wheel was used.
By 1954, Sonny Mazza had one cool and fast ride. Trips up to a drag strip at an airstrip in Sanford, Maine routinely netted timing slips showing 14-second passes at 100-105 mph. Sonny enjoyed driving and racing his rod for three years, but the registration renewal he obtained for the car in October of 1957 would turn out to be the last time it would be registered for nearly half a century. The car was apparently retired from both street use and drag racing soon after.
After parking the roadster, Sonny continued to be involved in the sport of drag racing. Along with fellow members of the Hi-Winders rod club in Lynn, he built a pre-war Fiat into a Hemi-powered dragster. A little later, Mazza built and raced USA-1, a turbine-powered dragster that ran 198 mph. He is also remembered as the operator of Mazzas Cafeteria, located at the New England Dragway in Epping, New Hampshire.
For nearly 50 years, the Sonny Mazza roadster languished in obscurity. Recently it reappeared, still in its original configuration and with its as-installed big Chrysler hemi still sporting the four Stromberg 97s. The last license Sonny Mazza bought for the roadster, a 1957 plate, accompanies the car to this day.
During the past two years, the svelte little roadster has been featured in several publications. A story by Dale M. Moreau featured the car in the September 2007 issue of Street Rodder magazine. A great full-page photo of the roadster parked in the staging area at a drag strip appeared in the 2006 Magneto, a calendar magazine dedicated to preserving the history of hot rodding in New England. Headlined, Mazza Masterpiece, the photo clearly shows the clean lines and detailing of the car...a standout then and now.
A photo of the car at the drags in the mid-1950s also appears in A.B. Shumans Cool Cars and Square Roll Bars, a recently published book of photos and recollections of 50s hot rodding in New England. A portion of an old home movie also exists that shows the Mazza roadster at a rod and custom show in the early 50s.
The little Ford roadster built by Sonny Mazza in 1953-54 is a pure American hot rod that will rank among the best roadsters at any event, east coast or west. As one admirer put it, The Mazza roadster could be one of the most important east-coast survivor hot rods in existence. It shows, without a doubt, that a Massachusetts kid could build a proper hot rod just as well as a California kid. And, if looks dont settle the issuewell, lets crank up that Hemi and have a go...